Could you answer the question, “What is your perfect customer's name?” off the top of your head?
If not, you could be repelling the customers you should be trying to attract, serve, and retain.
It may sound like something straight out of a Marketing 101 course, but we all need to be reminded that clearly identifying your perfect customer is an essential component of growing your business. Your entire business — not just your marketing.
Why Clearly Identifying Your Perfect Customer Is Essential
When you fail to clearly identify your perfect customer, you end up with a client roster full of non-ideal customers, which can be extremely draining to both you as the owner and your entire business.
You waste time and energy accommodating customers who don’t pay you a premium. These non-ideal customers require exceptions to your standard processes and take up too many valuable resources. Essentially, they keep you from enjoying your work.
On the other hand, identifying your perfect customer is an exercise in intentionality.
When you can clearly describe exactly who you want your business to serve, your messaging and your marketing become much more effective.
You begin to attract, close, serve, and retain higher quality customers that are a better fit for you and your systems, which makes your business more profitable and enjoyable — while simultaneously filtering out people you don’t want to work with.
It also makes your marketing simpler. We often hear that we need to segment our audience, but so many people make their marketing segmentation overly complicated in an attempt to reach everyone.
But if you know precisely who you're talking to, there’s no need to over-segment. You’ll deliver the message that will attract your perfect client, and you won’t be worried that other people are hearing it too. Your intended audience will listen to what you say and embrace it, and those that don't find your messaging compelling won’t waste your time.
We’re constantly told things like, “It’s important to know your niche,” and, “Targeting your perfect customer is essential.” And you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single business consultant who argues against it. Still, owners often struggle to get specific about whom they want to do business with.
This is why I strongly encourage each of my consulting clients to start with their perfect customer’s name.
Get on a First-Name Basis with Your Ideal Customer
We often think of our customers as verticals, or industries, or corporations.
But your actual customers — the lifeblood of your business — are not segments. They are people, and people have names.
Thinking of our ideal customer as a person with a name — rather than as an abstraction — is helpful for two reasons.
First, it helps us simplify and focus our marketing message. Marketing is talking to a specific person. So if we don’t picture someone specific in our minds, we bounce around all over the place in our messaging — trying to sell to a room full of people rather than the one or two who would be perfect for us.
Second, it helps us clear up some misconceptions we may have about our existing customers and who we want to serve.
When I'm doing sales strategy with a client, I ask them to describe their very best customer. Then, after they’ve struggled for a few moments, I ask them to tell me the first name of the specific customer they’re thinking of.
Then their responses get much more accurate.
I realized just how helpful this was when I spent an hour and a half with a client trying to identify their target customer. Initially, they believed their ideal buyer was a government agency because 60% of their existing projects were in government.
When they finally gave me the name of their favorite "government" client, I started asking about that person, their role, their company, etc. As we unpacked it, we made a startling discovery: Not a single government entity had ever written them a check.
Yes, their top customers were people who did work for the government, but they were actually just the middlemen. My client completely misunderstood their existing customer base and target market.
This simple practice of giving their perfect customer a name led to clarity around everything their business did — which impacted their marketing, messaging, business operations, and client management systems.
5 Questions to Name Your Perfect Customer
Identifying your ideal client isn’t as simple as choosing a unique first name and making up a backstory out of thin air. Describing your ideal client as a multi-billionaire with a massive budget, low expectations, and a heartfelt desire to keep you on a $10M yearly retainer may be fun, but it’s not realistic or actionable.
To clearly identify your perfect customer, start by looking at your existing customers. (And keep in mind that your customer is not necessarily the person your services most benefit — they’re the person responsible for making sure you get paid.)
Then, answer these five questions:
1. What is their job title? This should be found on their business card, LinkedIn profile, or in the signature of their email.
2. Are they a proxy or the actual decision-maker? Do they make the decision to hire you and pay you, or are they a gatekeeper to the decision-maker?
3. If they’re not the decision-maker, who do they need approval from? This will give you a clear understanding of how their buying process works.
4. Who is your favorite one?
5. Why are they your favorite? This is when we start learning the traits we want to look for in other high-quality clients.
We may say, "Jane's a great client! She pays on time and tells us what she wants. Jane always shares her budget and she pushes back if she doesn't like the idea. She's also very collaborative. We love that about Jane."
This gets you to the heart of what you want in a perfect customer. Once you’ve gained clarity about your existing favorite clients, you can use this information to create the ultimate perfect customer profile… complete with a first name.
You can then use this information in your marketing, sales, and customer management.
Now, to be clear, if someone doesn’t fit your perfect customer profile exactly, I’m not telling you to turn them away or fire them as a client. That’s not the purpose of this exercise. We’re focusing more on crafting messaging and systems that best attract and serve our ideal customers, rather than creating a list of qualifications or criteria for turning down business.
The Rewards of Finding Your Jane
You can be much more successful in the business your perfect customer wants you to be in than the business you think you should be in.
By having a specific perfect customer in mind, your business can constantly improve to meet their specific needs rather than just guessing at what “the industry” wants you to do.
You can ask “Jane” (and all the other “Janes” you identify) what would be valuable to them. You can ask what she wants. You can ask what would make her happiest, and then act accordingly.
Not only does this attract more perfect customers, but it repels everyone else.
For example, no client has ever told me that they love working with price shoppers. Nobody ever asks me to help them reach more people who will argue with them about money.
In our marketing, we can't flip a switch and filter out those non-ideal clients entirely, but we should use messaging that doesn’t directly cater to these people. The language we use to attract Jane won’t be as attractive to price shoppers who are looking for discount programs and negotiable prices.
Jane is looking for something different. Jane values collaboration, premium design, and honesty over the bottom line, and we're going to lead with that. We're going to put that message out there, so Jane can start that journey with us exactly where she is. We want to meet the perfect customer where they are.
Then we can continue to learn from Jane and tailor our whole process around her to attract even more perfect customers.